Ty Garner can count his remaining days at Nebraska Wesleyan on two hands.
It would take several hands to count the number of experiences he’s accumulated in his 3 ½ years here including starting a new campus organization, volunteering for local, national and international service projects, performing in the choir, serving as co-editor of the campus newspaper, completing internships, and designing his own academic major.
“I wouldn’t change anything,” said the Broomfield, Colo. native. “I feel like NWU has given me a good base to jump off with.”
Garner plans to jump into a career in sustainable architecture — a pathway he discovered through his first semester Archway Seminar called “Enduring Humanity.” His newfound interest in environmentalism continued that next semester when he took Sandra Mathews’ “Environmental History” class, which examined the role of human environmental interaction on Earth.
“I started realizing that the environment is something that ties everybody together, regardless of socioeconomic status, race, or gender,” said Garner, who originally enrolled at NWU to study pre-med. “The environment is something that everyone experiences and affects us all regardless of who is caring for it and who isn’t.”
He soon started the Green House Project, a campus organization that participates in community service, environmental education and initiatives, and organizes Earth Week activities each April.
His drive for improving the environment lead him to change his major and pursue one of NWU’s newest offerings: an integrative studies major, which gives students the opportunity to customize their major.
In order to design his new major in environmental studies, Garner worked closely with Mathews, his advisor, and researched employment, pre-requisites, other university degrees in the subject and comparatively matched the courses with NWU’s classes. His program combined physics, chemistry, biology, history and interdisciplinary studies.
For his senior capstone, Garner applied for the Earthship Biotecture Academy — something he described as “a long shot.”
That description was with good reason. Garner is the youngest person to be accepted into the program. The opportunity took him to Taos, New Mexico, last summer where he split his time between classroom lessons and fieldwork. His goal was to learn firsthand how to build an earthship, which is a home constructed of readily available natural resources and upcycled materials. Earthships often utilize energy gathered from sun and water. The intent is to ethically use the environment and reduce the carbon footprint of construction, Garner said.
Garner’s experience in New Mexico was funded through the university’s Student Faculty Collaborative Research Fund.
“If you want to study environmental architecture, you can’t get more environmental integrated architecture than an earthship,” said Mathews, who collaborated with Garner.
Garner described the academy as life changing.
“I met so many different people from all over the world and all kinds of different environmental positions. There were architects, environmental engineers, artists who were environmental activists. It was a good mix of different people and interests,” he said.
As a part of the Student Faculty Collaborative Research Grant, Garner planned to theoretically construct an earthship for Nebraska. However, while at the academy Garner was introduced to a woman with plans to build an earthship near Lincoln.
“I never would have made a connection had I not gone to the academy,” said Garner.
“With this experience and with his training and understanding of chemistry, physics, biology and historical systems, he is much more capable of shifting that kind of architectural design from the rock and sandstone and adobe that is available in New Mexico to what is available here,” said Mathews.
Prior to his research in New Mexico, Garner interned with Tetrad Property Group, which is working with NWU on its new Duane W. Acklie Hall of Science. Garner assisted with the environmentally sustainable aspects of the construction.
Following his graduation in December, Garner plans to work on an earthship near Lincoln and will pursue graduate school. Eventually he’d like to work further on architecture and earthships to provide environmentally-friendly housing that features modern artistic architecture.
Mathews has no doubt he’ll succeed.
“You crack open a door and he pretty much grabs the handle and rips the door off,” said Mathews.
“I don’t know if I had gone to another university I would have been able to access the incredible resources and opportunities they have here,” Garner said of his NWU experience. “When I started to change my major one of the options was that I just transfer and study environmental studies and agriculture. I felt so at home at Wesleyan and knew the people would support me and help me create what I wanted to do so I stayed and it was definitely worth it.”
Story by Emmalie Harris, public relations intern